Covid’s very much around … need to stay vigilant for at least 6 months: NK Arora

The Covid-19 pandemic is far from over though the numbers are on the decline, NK Arora, head of the Covid-19 working group at the National Technical Advisory Group on Immigration (NTAGI), tells Teena. Arora says India needs to remain vigilant at least till December. Edited Excerpts:

Is Covid-19 on the verge of ending in India?

It is very much around. There are countries across the world where more than 100,000 cases are occurring every day. There are Covid-related deaths which are occurring in large numbers in several countries. Within India also there are cases. More important is that some of the sick individuals who have other diseases and who are admitted and if they contract Covid their risk of death becomes very high. Seeing the current scenario, a sense of complacency is likely to creep in. I would say that we need to remain vigilant, at least for six months, because we have seen that new variants keep arising due to mutation in this virus.

What should be the strategy to ensure that the situation remains under control?

While we maintain proper behavior, we should particularly avoid, or be careful during, social gatherings. All those who are eligible for precaution doses must go ahead with precaution doses, and children who have yet to receive their first or second dose should also get those doses.

India has just discovered the B.4 and B.5 sub-variants of Omicron. The same sub-variants are responsible for a new wave in South Africa.

B.4 and B.5 have only been discovered in this country during the last two weeks. They’ve been isolated. In this world, wherever any variant occurs anywhere, we can be almost certain that it’s just a matter of time when we find that variant within our country also. We are closely watching the situation and the way the virus is behaving in other countries. But more important for us is to closely follow the behavior and pattern of this virus in our country in terms of its transmissibility or spread of the infection, and the possibility of serious disease and the need for hospitalisation. These are initial days and that is precisely the reason that we need to remain at the highest level of vigil for the coming months and see how B.4 and B.5 behave in India. We have now strengthened our genomic surveillance through sewage surveillance also. That again shows the system’s preparedness.

What are the challenges that you are foreseeing in the fight against Covid?

The key challenge is sustaining the discipline and concern at the population level that they should not feel that Covid is over. We need a continuous awareness program to warn the community that it is still not over. Our surveillance strategies are constantly being refined to meet any prospective challenge.

A lot of offices are still not functioning at 100% capacity. Is this a good time to permit that?

At a personal level, I feel we need to maintain vigil. We should take all our efforts to resume our routines and get back to life. But it is equally important that all precautions and guards are not to be thrown out … within the office environment – these are closed environments with air conditioning and the air is recirculated within the system – the spread of infection is likely.

What about schools?

School now should not be closed at any cost. There are a lot of fallouts if the schools are closed. It is both intellectual and cognitive impairment which occurs if schools remain closed. So, there is no question of schools being closed.


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